A Prussian Tale

Here’s a little winter’s tale. I’m celebrating the festive period with my friends and family so I’ll be back on Jan 7th. I hope you all have a fabulous break and my best wishes for 2017.

My Father’s parents came from East Prussia. Their childhood could not have been more different to mine. In fact, my Oma Erna probably thought me to be rather spoiled, growing up as I did in Dusseldorf. She once told me this story:

“I remember as a young child being put on a big sledge very early in the morning. We were setting off to go to the next farm, which was miles away. My Mother covered me with thick blankets and I wore my best and warmest coat, which was lined with fur. I was sitting on thick skins.

My Father prepared the sledge the night before and my Mother and Grandmother were getting me up to get going by daybreak. It was late autumn and we already had the first snowfall. I was sitting there so wrapped up I could hardly move, so I played with my breath in the cold air.”


These trips were necessary for her parents to exchange sugar, flour and other important items with their neighbours to prepare for the long winter. The farms were so isolated that once the temperatures turned to freezing and the land was covered in snow, it was too dangerous to travel. Food had to be prepared and preserved carefully in advance. The only other food during the winter months was fish and meat, if weather conditions allowed farming or hunting.

“Where I come from, Nicole, there are a lot of rivers. It is a beautiful place and it is called ‘the land of the thousand lakes’. Travelling by sledge was magical, seeing the sun rise on a cold frosty morning, but dangerous as well and therefore it was vital for the journey to be made during the daylight, as we had a better chance of reaching those farms without being attacked from wild dogs or wolves. Packs of hungry wolves have been known to hunt during the night and there are many stories of whole families being eaten up by them and only hats and gloves and lots of blood was found in the snow the next day.”

I absolutely loved her stories, but they also kept me awake at night. For hours I was imagining I was that little girl on the sledge, wrapped up in furs, being pulled through the wilderness in the snow in a land of a thousand lakes, seeing wolves eyes glowing in the night.

My Prussian Grandmother also kept me awake for completely different reasons.

Every time she came to visit us in Dusseldorf, she had to stay in my room. Only nine years old at the time, I objected to having her sleep in my bunkbed.

“Not only does she snore really loudly, but she takes her teeth out before she falls asleep and puts them in a glass on MY night table!” I complained to my mother. Can you imagine having to wake up and seeing a pair of teeth in a glass grinning at you? But that was not the worst thing!

The worst happened one evening, in fact it was the middle of the night, when I got woken up by a strange, unfamiliar sound. It was very unusual, like water splashing into a pond. I was sleeping on top of my bunkbed and Oma was sleeping on the bottom bed. The sound went on for ages. I rubbed my eyes and slowly and quietly moved to the edge of the bed frame to have a look.

The moon shone brightly through the blades of my shutters, displaying a pattern of lines in the room. There was just enough moonlight for me to recognise my Grandmother with her white nightdress lifted up over her knees squatting and having a pee on what looked like a baby’s potty. Yuk! How disgusting! Why is she doing this…and in MY room? The bathroom was only across the hall. It would take less than two minutes to get to the toilet.

The next morning I complained vigorously!

“Mutti, it was terrible, I don’t want Oma in my room anymore, Mutti please!”

But no, Oma had to stay in my room. And how lucky was that for me, as she continued to tell me more amazing stories of the land with the thousand lakes…


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